Art that resonates with a wide audience often springs from unlikely sources, and it was a miracle that Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis was discovered at all. Plagued by severe rheumatoid arthritis from childhood, she was deemed unable to accomplish anything in life by her own family.
Yet, Lewis persevered, creating a hobby of painting brightly colored, whimsical portraits of the outdoor life she witnessed in her rural hometown in Nova Scotia starting in the 1930s. The story of her improbable rise to fame, and difficult but ultimately loving marriage, forms the heart of the deeply affecting new film “Maudie.”
The film opens on Maud struggling mightily to make a painting that reflects her childlike view of the world. She has always been treated as helpless by her emotionally distant and condescending brother, Charles, and her Aunt Ida, yet she has a beautiful smile and maintains a sweet spirit.
Maud still lives in her childhood home, under her aunt’s care — at least until Charles abruptly announces that he’s selling the house against her wishes.
Heartbroken from losing the only home she’s ever known, Maud vows to strike out on her own and fend for herself. She takes a job as a housekeeper for an angry, reclusive loner named Everett Lewis, who ekes out an existence selling fish and chopped wood to the townspeople and wants a woman around as much for companionship as cleanliness.
Everett initially scoffs at the idea that a disabled woman can be of any use, but she’s determined to make it work in exchange for room and board. He is verbally abusive toward her and even backhands her viciously in the face when she seems to indicate to a client that they are romantically involved.
Yet Everett slowly realizes that she is indispensable to him, helping organize his accounts and brightening his home with her paintings of flowers, nature and people on his walls and windows. Their interactions remain strained, since they are forced to share the same bed platonically due to the house’s incredibly limited space. The arrangement soon becomes awkwardly physical before eventually blossoming into true, if at times difficult, love.
When a well-to-do client of Everett named Sandra notices her imagery, she offers to buy a painting. Soon, Maud is finding newfound confidence as both word of mouth and media attention for her work on canvas starts to spread far and wide — even as the attention paid to her proves to be difficult for her husband.
“Maudie” depicts a relationship that gradually transforms each of their challenging lives, even as Everett’s emotional instability continues to rear its ugly head on occasion. The movie ultimately proves to be a beautifully scaled depiction of the redemptive power of love.
Director Aisling Walsh and cinematographer Guy Godfree fully immerse viewers in both the beauty and loneliness of life in the extremely remote area they live in, where their house was seven miles outside the nearest town. They may have been outsiders in the society around them, but had their own world together— for better and worse— on the fringes of it.
As the lead characters, both Sally Hawkins as Maud and Ethan Hawke as Everett deliver moving performances with impressive nuances. Hawkins is outstanding in depicting the physical impairments that the artist struggled with, as well as the fiercely loving spirit that kept her going through incredible hardships.
Hawke digs deep to convey the wounded soul that lies within her husband, ruggedly built from a life of hard labor and eyes squinting with insecurity as he felt inferior to those around him. Their relationship reveals that inner beauty and goodness are what truly matters in life, rather than externals. n Grade: A
“Maudie” opens Friday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.
IT COMES AT NIGHT
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Length: 91 minutes
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
An arty psychological thriller that poses the question of when helping a stranger is dangerous, it stars Joel Edgerton as a man hiding with his family in the woods amid an apocalyptic disease outbreak who allows another family to move in. Very well-made and solidly acted, this nonetheless has such a grim and despairing view of human nature that it will make viewers feeling more miserable than entertained. Grade: C
Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella
Length: 110 minutes
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Tom Cruise’s latest attempt to find a blockbuster outside the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a muddled mess, as he plays a rogue soldier stealing exotic antiquities who inadvertently unearths and unleashes an evil, mummified Egyptian princess. Cruise almost makes it work until the last half hour, when the movie completely falls apart. It should have stayed buried. Grade: D
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Length: 141 minutes
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
The first superhero movie centered on a female superhero brings a fresh perspective to the genre, with director Patty Jenkins adding an impressive level of thought, heart and humor to the terrific action and visuals as Wonder Woman teams with a British spy to stop a nefarious German plan and an evil force amid World War I. Fun and expertly made on every level, it’s a must see. Grade: A
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron
Length: 116 minutes
Directed by: Seth Gordon
The big-screen adaptation of one of TV’s most inexplicably popular and utterly stupid series ever attempts to bring a knowing sense of humor by casting Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, but its unfunny mix of grossout raunch and serious attempts at action combine with an asinine plot about stopping a villainous club owner’s drug deals to make this one of the worst movies in years. Grade: F
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
Length: 129 minutes
Directed by: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
The fifth film in the series has Captain Jack Sparrow teaming with the son of Will Turner, a female accused of witchcraft and his crew in a race to find the mythical trident of Poseidon before his nemesis Captain Salazar, and break a slew of curses. The setpieces are often funny and the finale visually spectacular, but Depp is hanging on to this series as a source of treasure more than inspiration.